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There have been enough gender-related controversies in the tech world of late for us all to once again re-examine the perennial ‘issue’ of women in the tech world.
Of course, women in tech, is just one minority in the vast phalanx of human experience and expression; there are black women in tech, lesbian women in tech, Hindu women in tech, genderqueer women in tech, disabled women in tech, and so forth.
But one can only take one issue at a time, and sometimes one has to split a log at the widest part.
In short, there appears to be a dearth of women operating in the technology sector, globally and locally.
Whilst London’s technology scene has the highest proportion of female entrepreneurs in Europe, East London’s ‘tech city’ is still overwhelmingly populated with men. Indeed, women founders make up only 9% the new tech businesses established in the capital in 2012. Across the UK, according to research by Lady Geek – the campaign agency that lobbies to make technology more accessible to women – the number of technology jobs held by women has dropped from 22% in 2001 to 17% by 2011.
The reasons that have been posited for such a low number of women in tech are manifold, and include;
Social conditioning from an early age towards non-STEM subjects
Lack of role models at an executive or management level
Unfavourable preconceptions of entering a male-dominated environment
The response to improve these numbers have been interesting. In UK, formal groups such as Women in Technology and Girls in Tech UK have emerged to provide supportive and educational networks for females operating in tech or who are considering making the leap into the tech industry. Female-to-female mentoring is on the rise through the likes of MentorSET – a government funded initiative.
Organisations such as Code Club, which admittedly doesn’t have an explicit remit to engage girls in coding at an early age, have been able to engage 9-11 year old boys and girls in the rudementaries of coding.
However, merely increasing the number of women in a technology-focussed job is not the end of the battle.
For the paltry number of women who are in tech companies but not the founder – there seems to be something of a crisis in progressing to the highest levels in their career.
Across the waters in the US, according to a new survey the number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row.
The survey, published by U.S. division of the British tech recruitment group Harvey Nash, attests that just 9% of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11% last year and 12% in 2010. According to Reuters, 30% of the 450 American tech executives polled said their IT groups have no women at all in management positions.
The ramifications of these findings – both Stateside and over here – were made apparent last month, when I had the pleasure of listening to Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook, COO) speak at News International on her ‘Lean In’ book tour.
The central thesis of ‘Lean In’ is that women in the workforce – both in and outside of the tech industry – need to speak up, assert themselves and not feel guilty about being professionally ambitious to get ahead in the tech industry. Sandberg’s post mortem suggests that for there to be any change in workplace practices and legislation, the onus is on women who are already there to ‘lean in’ and forge a way for themselves and those below them.
Perhaps it’s just because we’re still in the midst of ‘Lean In’ promotional storm, or perhaps because the tech world is still reeling from high profile incidents such as ‘Donglegate’, but I feel that there has never been a better time for a bit of corporate introspection and self-criticism by the tech community to consider the barriers to entry for females in the workforce to tech ecosystems.
Croydon Tech City has been being for just over six months now and I’m proud to see that it has grown to a community of over four hundred software developers, creatives, venture capitalists and startup founders.
However, I am acutely aware that we don’t have enough women in the Croydon Tech city community. A rough count of our monthly meet-ups show that only one in eight attendees is a woman, I would love to see the ratio change and be more reflective of the general population.
Of late, there has been a general push amongst various community groups to encourage the participation of often disenfranchised women in Croydon governance. Just this week, Croydon Labour party held a ‘What Women Want’ conference and it was remarkable to see how many of the issues raised by the women in attendance – jobs, education, training, connections – could be fostered and met through a burgeoning tech ecosystem.
If Croydon Tech City is to be a radical community that radically shapes the borough socially, economically and culturally, then it needs to be a place which is accommodating and welcoming to women; whether they are interested in technology or not.
Until it reaches this goal, if any of you have solutions of how to encourage more female technologists to get involved in Croydon’s tech ecosystem – I’d welcome your ideas.
On Thursday 30th May, Croydon Tech City is holding a ‘Women in Tech’ event at Matthews Yard, Croydon. The event is free and all are welcome.
Image credits: flickr/Denna Jones/kevygee/ansik